Tag Archives: Mahlondo Martin

The Development Squad Arrives in the Premier League

Welcome to Wednesday's Training Ground

Welcome to Wednesday’s Training Ground

I have to admit to being delighted at the news that Watford were upgrading their Academy to EPPP2 status, if only because it meant that the Development squad would be playing in a league. I wasn’t quite so thrilled to find out that many of the games would be early afternoon, but the first coincided with some time off work so, what better way to spend a Summer Monday than to take a trip to Sheffield Wednesday’s training ground.

I thought I had left loads of time to get there, but there was no sign of a tram to Middlewood so I took the blue line to Hillsborough and started walking. Needless to say, I soon spotted the Middlewood tram behind me so ran to the next tram stop and managed to catch it. Instructions on how to reach the training ground had been ambiguous, so I asked the young tram conductor whether I should get off at Leppings Lane or Middlewood. She suggested the latter, although wasn’t totally convinced. I had just spotted the sign for the ground when she came back with a relieved smile to point it out to me and the Middlewood stop was just around the corner. Perfect! As always when reaching an unfamiliar venue, I was very happy to see the team coach. The car park was full, but there was only a little space to watch the game that wasn’t behind a net.

Kewell and McGuane

Kewell and McGuane

When I arrived, the players were warming up. It was good to see Alec Chamberlain there working with the goalkeepers. I then saw Harry Kewell. Good heavens, coaches are getting very young. To my aged eyes, he could have been one of the U21s. As Alec returned to the changing rooms before the game, he was greeted by a Wednesday player, our old friend Lewis McGugan.

The starting line-up was a mix of young professionals and scholars plus a trialist … and Gilmartin. The team was Gilmartin, Doherty, Trialist, Johnson, Hoban, Martin, Smith, Byers, Lewis, Jakubiak and Mensah.

Prior to kick-off there were no arches on show, but there was the ‘respect’ handshake. Watford started brightly with shots from Mensah and Lewis blocked in quick succession. At the other end, our trialist blocked a shot from Croasdale, the follow-up from Mufata was hit well over the target. Jakubiak won a free kick on the edge of the box, which Byers blasted over the crossbar. Mensah went on a run through the middle and passed to Martin on the left but the winger’s shot was gathered by Dawkins. At the other end a cross from Stobbs was straight at Gilmartin. After about 10 minutes, there was a long break in play due to an injury to Croasdale. I didn’t see the tackle, but the Wednesday fans around me were not impressed. Sadly the lad was taken off on a stretcher buggy.

Captain Johnson on a run down the wing

Captain Johnson on a run down the wing

After the restart, Martin made an impressive run down the left wing but his cross was disappointingly long. Hornby beat Watford’s trialist and bore down on goal, he really should have scored but hit his shot wide. A cross from Smith was blocked but reached Martin who headed down to Mensah who was offside. Martin played the ball out to Doherty whose cross was headed clear but came back to Martin whose shot was poor and flew wide of the near post. An impressive run from Connor Smith came to nothing as his shot was blocked. Then a Wednesday free kick was comfortably caught by Gilmartin. Confusion in the home defence gifted the ball to Mensah, but he was frustrated by a last ditch tackle from De Haviland. There were appeals for a penalty as the trialist seemed to bundle one of the Wednesday players over in the box, but the lino had the flag up and explained to anyone that was listening (I was) that the offside had occurred first. Mufata tried a shot from distance that was well over the bar.

Jakubiak on the ball

Jakubiak on the ball

I was then distracted by some action near the dug outs as a lad who, judging by the fact that he was wearing gloves, appeared to be Wednesday’s substitute keeper climbed up a wall alongside the pitch to retrieve a ball that was stuck in the branches of a tree. You wouldn’t see that in the Premier League. Martin did brilliantly on the left beating a couple of players and then advancing along the byline beating another before cutting the ball back to Jakubiak whose shot was blocked. Martin exchanged passes with Mensah before hitting a cross that was too long for Lewis to reach. Despite the long break for the injury to Croasdale, there were only a couple of minutes added at the end of the half and the teams went in scoreless.

Wednesday were out early for the second half and even the officials were on the field before the Watford squad appeared although it was only 2:01, so they’d taken their normal half time break.

The visitors had the first chance of the second half with a shot from Mensah that lacked power and was touched back to the keeper by one of the defenders. A decent shot from Jakubiak was saved by the keeper’s legs. Gilmartin was in action at the other end, pushing a corner clear. The follow up was headed away before a cross came in that eluded all the players in the box. Just before the hour, Martin passed the ball out to Lewis whose cross was just too long for Mensah to reach. Booker broke down the right for Wednesday but Doherty was on hand to block for the corner.

Martin takes a corner

Martin takes a corner

A lovely passing move upfield finished disappointingly as Jakubiak’s flick to Mensah found a defender blocking the Watford forward’s progress. At the other end, Hirst shot straight at Gilmartin. Watford threatened again as Lewis hit a long cross that reached Martin whose cross was just missed by the head of Mensah. A Wednesday free kick came to nothing as it cleared the wall but flew straight into the arms of Gilmartin. Watford’s first substitution came in the 65th minute as Obi replaced Lewis. Another Watford chance went begging as Jakubiak touched the ball back to Mensah who hit it over the target. Then a Smith pass was intercepted, Wednesday advanced upfield where Meadows received the ball in space, Gimartin caught the shot, but the linesman was already flagging for offside. A cross from Jakubiak was put out for a corner by Wildin. With 15 minutes remaining, Byers was booked for a cynical trip to prevent a lad progressing down the wing.  Watford’s second substitution saw Makaka replacing Smith. Then Martin found Obi whose shot was blocked, as was the follow-up from Jakubiak.

Substitute Ogo Obi

Substitute Ogo Obi

Another lovely move saw Martin breaking into the box and finding Mensah who juggled the ball to Obi who was in an offside position. Mensah then played a pass for Jakubiak to run on to, but the keeper, Dawson, got to the ball first. Watford should have taken the lead as Jakubiak broke into the box and his shot rebounded to Byers who unleashed a tremendous strike that Dawson did really well to push over the bar. The corner was a little too high for Hoban who could only head it over. Watford had a further chance of a late winner as a cross from Martin reached Makaka who headed wide when he should have tested the keeper.

So, despite the dominance of the visitors, the game ended goalless. There was some lovely approach play from the Hornets, but they were dreadfully wasteful with their finishing. The trialist was a bit ponderous in the centre of the defence so didn’t impress me greatly.

As the Watford coaches left the pitch, Alec was able to catch up with another old friend as Terry Burton was in attendance. I also took the opportunity to thank our former coach for his sterling work in difficult times. He said that Watford had been one of his best experiences in football citing the semi-final as justification. It was lovely to hear that he has good memories of his time with us.

On the way out, I also had a good chat to Academy head, Chris McGuane, so, despite the result, I left Sheffield with a good feeling about the whole of the club.

No Shame in Defeat at St Mary’s

Pre-match formalities

Pre-match formalities

The quarter-final of the Premier League U21 Cup saw a young Watford side travelling to Southampton.  The game had been rescheduled from the previous week due to the Saints’ involvement in the FA Youth Cup, so I found myself torn between a visit to the Royal Court to see Maxine Peake in a new play or to St Mary’s to see the young Hornets.  I opted for the latter.

On arrival in the stadium, our lads were warming up and I noted a couple of very young looking boys were taking part.  Jon Marks very kindly informed me that these were U13 players who had been rewarded for hard work with the chance to travel with the U21 team, which was a nice touch.  There were only a handful of Watford fans in the crowd so we all acknowledged each other and I made the acquaintance of a couple of other WML members, which was rather lovely.

This was the youngest U21 team that I have seen this season, with all the outfield players within the age group.  The starting line-up was Gilmartin, Doherty, Savic, Johnson, Young, Byers, O’Nien, Martin, Folivi, Lewis and Mensah.

Folivi waits to take a corner

Folivi waits to take a corner

The game started disastrously for the young Hornets as Djuričić, recently arrived on loan from Benfica, played a through ball to Sinclair who timed his run perfectly so had only the keeper to beat, which he did with a casual dink.  The goal was timed at 70 seconds.  At this point, I was regretting my choice of entertainment for the evening but it soon improved immensely.  Our first chance came from Luke O’Nien who tried to chip the keeper from distance, but the ball cleared the crossbar.  There was a frantic spell around the Southampton box as first Folivi was stopped from shooting, then Mensah’s cross was blocked, finally the ball came out to Martin whose shot was wide of the near post.  Soon after, Martin broke forward and tried to find Mensah in the box, but his pass went behind his team mate.  Mensah then turned provider for Martin but the shot was blocked.  Next Folivi played a high ball to Mensah in the box which he couldn’t control.  At the other end Hesketh found Seager who blazed his shot over the bar.

Celebrating Mensah's goal

Celebrating Mensah’s goal

Johnson played the ball out to Lewis whose cross was blocked and flew out for a corner.  From the set piece, Savic got under the ball and directed his header over the bar.  The dangerous Djuričić broke forward and ran the length of the pitch before passing to Sinclair whose shot was blocked by the feet of Gilmartin.  Mensah tried a looping shot that fooled the keeper who could only put it out for a corner.  Savic, again, got his head to the delivery but Gazzaniga caught it comfortably.  A lovely passing move found Doherty on the left but his cross was cut out.  On the half hour, Hesketh played a through ball to Gape whose shot hit the side netting.  The visitors were level on 34 minutes as Folivi played Mensah in, he beat the defence and finished coolly.  It was no more than the young Hornets deserved as they had been excellent since the goal.  The Saints fans were shouting for a penalty soon after as O’Nien, who was on the ground at the time, appeared to use his arm when clearing the ball but the referee didn’t agree.  Folivi made a good run, but was stopped by a robust challenge on the edge of the box.  Into time added on at the end of the half, Hesketh shot from the edge of the box but Gilmartin was equal to it.  At the other end Byers released Folivi whose shot was straight at Gazzaniga.

So, honours even at half time.  It had been a terrifically entertaining half with a lot of attacking play from the young Hornets and the home side mostly restricted to counter attacks.

An attacking corner

An attacking corner

The second half started in the same manner as the first as Seager broke down the right, his cross was parried by Gilmartin but fell to Djuričić whose first shot was blocked on the line by Jorell Johnson, but the Serb made no mistake with his follow-up.  It was harsh on the Hornets who now had to start again.  They responded well as Young played the ball to Folivi whose cross was just a bit too high for Mensah in the box.  A cross-field pass reached Mensah on the right, he played it back to Martin who showed too much of the ball to the defender and the chance was lost.  Djuričić had the ball in the net again, but the flag was up.  Lewis played a deep cross to Mensah but the young forward headed over the bar.  Martin cut inside to get himself into a great scoring position, but his shot was weak and wide of the near post.  Martin’s next attempt to break was stopped by Gape, who was booked for the offence.  Byers took the free kick which was firmly held by Gazzaniga.  On 67 minutes Young made way for Obi and the Hornets went to three at the back.  Soon after Djuričić made way for Little, much to the relief of the visitors.

Byers and Mensah line up a free kick

Byers and Mensah line up a free kick

With 10 minutes remaining on the clock, the Saints increased their lead as Sinclair broke forward before playing the ball to Hesketh who squared for Sims to slide the ball past Gilmartin.  The scoreline didn’t reflect the balance of play.  Just before full time, Sims appeared to have scored a fourth for the home side but, again, the flag was raised.  Watford grabbed a consolation in time added on as Doherty fed Folivi who shot past Gazzaniga.  The 3-2 final score was a much fairer reflection of a game in which the young Hornets had put in a great performance that was let down only by slow starts to each half.  They should certainly hold their heads high after what was a thoroughly entertaining evening’s football, which was well worth missing the theatre for.

Watford’s Youngsters Crush Leeds

The teams take the field

The teams take the field

This evening was my first visit to the Upper GT stand since the commemorative posters were put up.  Each one of them evoked memories that brought a smile to my face and a tear to my eye.  But tonight was about the future.  The starting line-up included the permitted three overage players plus an overage goalkeeper and was Gilmartin, Doherty, Savic, Young, Martin, O’Nien, Byers, Murray, Mensah, Ranegie and Fabbrini.  Apparently Savic is a Serbian triallist.  Among the crowd, it was lovely to see David Hughes back to see the youngsters that he used to train.

As the teams emerged from the tunnel the ref decided that they should face the SEJ stand for the respect handshakes.  This benefitted their non-playing team mates and the benches, but meant that they had their backs turned to all the paying punters.

Much amusement after Mensah scored the third

Much amusement after Mensah scored the third

The visitors started brightly but Watford took the lead in the fourth minute.  Luke O’Nien, fresh from his goalscoring exploits for Wealdstone against home town club, Hemel, advanced to the edge of the box and as Don was yelling “Not from there,” belted it into the top corner.  A couple of minutes later Fabbrini went on a great run and passed to O’Nien whose shot from the angle was pushed out by the Leeds keeper, Grimes.  From our viewpoint, the corner appeared to have been headed the other side of the post, but Grimes emerged with the ball that he had retrieved from the net and the lino signalled that Doherty had scored.  It wasn’t all Watford, Leeds had a chance to reduce the deficit when a clearance came back to Stokes but Gilmartin was behind his shot.  Then Phillips got on the end of a cross from Dawson but headed over the target.  Murray played a one-two with Fabbrini, his shot from an angle bounced off the inside of the far post, Skelton’s attempted clearance hit Mensah and flew in to put Watford three goals up after 21 minutes.

O'Nien after scoring his second goal of the night

O’Nien after scoring his second goal of the night

Watford’s fourth came 15 minutes later as Fabbrini released Martin whose cross was met by Ranegie, his shot was blocked but the ball fell to O’Nien who made no mistake for his second goal of the night.  The fifth came soon after as Fabbrini hit a lovely curling shot into the top corner.  The first booking of the evening went to Purver of Leeds for clattering O’Nien, who was proving to be a menace.  In the dying minutes of the half, Leeds tried to strike back as Stokes broke clear and unleashed a shot but it was over the target.  It had been a tremendous half of football by the young Hornets who had hardly let the visitors have a sight of the ball, played some lovely passing football and been clinical in their finishing.

Fair play to the Leeds team, then, for coming out and having a go in the second period.  They had a shot in the first minute of the half, but Parkin’s shot was blocked by Gilmartin.  Booker was the next to have a go, his shot was blocked and fell to Parkin whose strike was easily caught by Gilmartin.

Traillist Savic

Traillist Savic

At the other end, Murray tried a curler from distance but it flew past the far post.  Parkin continued to threaten as a low cross was cut out by Doherty.  A lovely Watford move finished with a low cross/shot from Martin which Grimes pushed around the post.  The second Leeds booking went to Parkin, again for a tackle on O’Nien.  This had been a good spell for Watford, but Leeds were still pressing as a shot from distance from Skelton flew high and wide.  Watford made their first substitution just after the hour mark with triallist Savic, who had a decent game in the centre of defence, making way for Rowan.  Watford’s sixth goal came soon after as Ranegie ran into the box, held off the defender and shot into the roof of the net.  Watford made another change with Lewis coming on for Martin, so Mensah moved to the left.  I take full responsibility for the Leeds consolation as I commented that we might have won this game just before Phillips won a tackle and advanced into the box before playing the ball back to Dawson who beat Gilmartin.  Watford continued to threaten the Leeds goal as Fabbrini passed to Lewis who picked the ball up at the corner flag and did really well to keep it in and beat the defender to get in a low cross, but nobody could apply the finishing touch.

Congratulations for Ranegie after scoring Watford's sixth goal

Congratulations for Ranegie after scoring Watford’s sixth goal

A Murray free-kick into the box reached Ranegie, but he got under the header and it looped over the bar.  At the other end, Phillips had a free header from a cross to the far post but directed it into the side netting.  Watford’s final substitution saw Folivi come on for Fabbrini.  Gilmartin had to drop to save a low shot from Leeds sub Mulhern.  With 10 minutes to go, Watford were down to ten men as Mensah limped off.  O’Nein, who had so often been on the wrong end of Leeds tackles, got his own back and was booked for taking down a Leeds player as he tried to break.  Leeds hadn’t given up and a looping cross was headed goalwards by Mulhern but Gilmartin was there to gather the ball.  Ranegie was booked after complaints from the Leeds players that he had used an elbow.  Mulhern had been a constant danger since he came on, so it was a relief to see his cross/shot tipped over by Gilmartin.  Leeds earned another booking as Phillips was penalised for taking Lewis down as he attempted a break.  In time added on there were chances for both sides as, first, Folivi tried a shot from distance that was easy for Grimes then Mulhern came for a header, but the challenge of Gilmartin ensured that he directed it over the bar.

So, an impressive win for the youngsters but the visitors certainly deserved great credit for not giving up despite being 6-1 down.  Finally, thanks must go to Dave, the steward in the Lower GT disabled enclosure who was beyond helpful in ensuring that we got out of the stadium with the minimum of effort.

Swans Way

The pre-match line-up

The pre-match line-up

When the draw for the third round of the FA Youth Cup matched us with Swansea, I contemplated the day trip to Llanelli until I found out it was a 7pm kick-off and changed my mind.  But then Steve, our resident South Wales Hornet, came to my rescue with an e-mail offering to transport me from Swansea to Llanelli and back, even though he lives a couple of miles from the ground.  What a Gent!

On my arrival in Swansea, the weather was surprisingly pleasant, but as we set off for Llanelli the forecast rain was just starting to fall and, by the time we arrived, it was persistent with a nasty swirling wind.

Prior to the match, Chris McGuane,  the Academy head,  came and had a chat with us and expressed the hope that it would be better performance than last year when the U21s came away with a win on penalties that owed much to the goalkeeping of Dan Wilks (now with St Mirren).  Steve and I felt like quite the celebrities as the tannoy announcer congratulated us on battling the M25 and M4 to get there (actually, I had a lovely train journey from East Berkshire) and Liam from the media department at WFC came over for a chat and then recognized us on Twitter.

The starting line-up was Ammann, Young (c), Rowan, Stevens, Kyprianou, Makaka, Stewart, Lewis, Martin, Obi and Folivi.  Swansea’s starting line-up was unsurprisingly packed with Welsh surnames.  They even had a Dylan Thomas.  The announcer informed the crowd that Watford were unbeaten in 6 games and that Swansea had won the last 7, so we were in for a competitive game.

Celebrating Obi's goal

Celebrating Obi’s goal

Watford started well.  A lovely cross-field ball from Folivi reached Martin, but he couldn’t control it.  Folivi broke into the box and crossed but it was headed out.  The resultant corner was headed wide by Kyprianou.  Watford took the lead in the seventh minute after persistence by the Watford forwards forced a corner from which Kyprianou’s initial shot was cleared as far as Obi whose shot from the edge of the area took a deflection and flew over Lewis Thomas in the Swansea goal.  Swansea tried to break back immediately as Dylan Thomas broke into the Watford box but was harried by Rowan and Kyprianou who came away with the ball.  Copp tried a shot from distance that was wide of the near post.  Then a Copp free kick was headed goalwards by Fallon, Ammann got a hand to keep it out, but there was a whistle for an infringement.  Swansea threatened again as a shot from Gilchrist flew just over the bar.  The conditions were getting worse and the ball must have been very slippery as a shot from distance from Copp was spilled by Ammann who gathered it at the second attempt.  This had been a good spell from Swansea and the Watford boys were having to resort to some clumsy challenges to stop them, which led to Kyprianou being booked for a foul on Fallon.  The home side were justly furious that the referee pulled play back when Jones had continued the run on goal.

Folivi takes a corner in the driving rain

Folivi takes a corner in the driving rain

On 24 minutes, Swansea won a penalty as Jones was tripped in the box.  He took the spot kick himself, but Ammann guessed the right way and pulled off a great save.  Watford mounted a rare attack but Folivi’s cross bobbled to Obi whose shot was deflected clear.  Swansea were not to be denied for long as Jones broke down the wing and crossed for Fallon to shoot past Ammann.  It has to be said that the home side deserved to be level at this stage.  Swansea’s next chance was a free-kick from Copp that flew over the wall and was easily gathered by Ammann.  Watford were also making chances as Lewis crossed for Obi whose shot was parried.  Martin then played a ball out to Folivi on the left but his cross was too high for Obi.  There had been constant complaints from the Swansea bench about Watford’s fouls on James and, finally, Young was booked for a rather robust tackle.  Obi received a pass from Folivi in the box, but there were two defenders on him and the ball was put out for a corner.  Watford had a good chance to take the lead just before half time as Folivi fed Martin whose shot was blocked on the line.  Instead it was Swansea who took the lead as Jones rode a tackle and beat Young who, being on a card, didn’t risk making a tackle, before slotting the ball past Ammann.

At half time, the weather was absolutely filthy and there was no sign of the Watford substitutes, although warming up would have been a misnomer for a kick-about in those conditions.

Kyprianou and Obi line up to take a free kick

Kyprianou and Obi line up to take a free kick

Watford made a lively start to the second half as Obi exchanged passes with Folivi before hitting a shot that drifted past the far post.  Watford made their first substitution just before the hour mark replacing Kyprianou with Otudeko.  Swansea threatened to increase their lead as a shot from James was parried by Ammann before being cleared.  There was a dangerous looking scramble in the Watford box which required the ball to be hooked off the line twice in quick succession.  From a corner, another Swansea shot had to be cleared off the line by Folivi.  Swansea got their third goal on 69 minutes as a cross found James running in behind the Watford defence where he hit it past Ammann.  It was a lovely goal and really no more than the home side deserved.  Watford tried to break back straight from the restart, but Lewis hit a poor shot wide of the near post.  Then Stevens gave the ball away to James but, thankfully, the Swansea man’s shot was poor.  Watford’s second substitution saw Cook replacing Makaka.  Swansea’s Lewis made a threatening run down the wing, but his cross was cut out by Rowan.  A Swansea corner was cleared as far as James whose shot was over the target.

Defending a corner

Defending a corner

Watford tried to cut the deficit as first a shot from Dennon Lewis was blocked and then a Folivi shot from the bye-line was blocked at the near post by keeper Thomas.  Swansea’s first substitution saw Maric replace Lewis.  Watford threatened again as a free-kick from Folivi found Martin whose shot was wide of the target.  Otudeko crossed for Dennon Lewis whose header was repelled, he followed up with a cross which was punched clear.  Swansea made a couple of last minute substitutions replacing Fallon and James, both of whom had given the Watford defence a torrid time all evening, with Dyson and Griffiths.  The Watford youngsters deserve credit for continuing to battle into injury time as first a shot from Otudeko was blocked, then an attempt from Martin was also blocked before the follow-up from Stevens was caught by Thomas.

It was a disappointing exit from the cup for the young Hornets, but Swansea were deserved winners on the night.  The lads looked gutted as they left the field.  I hope that they appreciated the two eejits in yellow applauding them off.  It may have been a cold wet night, but I enjoy watching the youngsters play and was very glad of Steve’s company and his kindness that made it possible.

Stone the Crows

Garden Walk

Garden Walk

In the Herts Senior Cup there is an expectation of nice local (to Watford) fixtures but drawing Royston meant a journey to the opposite end of the county.  I work 30 miles from Watford, so it was a bit of a shock to the system when, after picking Don up, I entered Garden Walk into my sat nav to be told that I still had another 35 miles to go.

Having called Royston Town and been assured that there was a disabled parking space available (and hoping it hadn’t been nabbed by someone else), I pulled up to the gates at Garden Walk and knocked.  I was greeted by a quizzical look from the steward who then kindly directed me to a parking space right by the club house.  His only request was that I leave a space next to me.  When I looked, I saw that the disabled space was next to the President’s, so the space was duly left.

The 'respect' handshakes

The ‘respect’ handshakes

When we arrived, the players were warming up and, while queuing at the tea bar, I turned to see a yellow-shirted player returning to the dressing room.  I did a double take when I realized it was Diego Fabbrini.  Now these foreign players are all very well, but how will they do on a cold Tuesday night in Royston?  We were about to find out.

The starting line-up was a nice mixture of youth and experience:  Gilmartin, Kyprianou, Doherty, Smith, Rowan, Hoban, Fabbrini, Byers, Lewis, Murray and Martin.

There was an early scare for the Hornets as Gilmartin came to catch a free-kick, was impeded and dropped the ball which was, thankfully, cleared off the line.  Watford immediately launched a counter attack which finished with Fabbrini tumbling in the box.  I couldn’t help laughing, but Diego soon redeemed himself.  His next action was to cut the ball back for Byers to shoot, but the Royston keeper, Ron Yates (yes, really), saved.  Byers broke into the box again passing to Lewis whose shot was parried to safety.  It wasn’t all Watford as a cross from Watters was headed out for a corner.  Lewis got on the end of a cross from Murray heading it goalwards but, again, Yates was equal to it.  Lewis then turned provider cutting the ball back for Smith to shoot but the shot was blocked.

Watford defend a corner

Watford defend a corner

Royston won a corner and Gilmartin had to stretch to push the ball clear.  Then a ball was played over the top to Fehmi who shot wide of the near post.  A cross field ball released Fabbrini, but he couldn’t find room for a shot.  Royston took the lead in the 18th minute as a cross from Bradshaw was headed home by Fehmi.  This provoked chants of “Championship, you’re having a laugh” from the home fans.  Watford tried to hit back immediately but Lewis failed to connect with a decent cross from Smith.  The equalizer came on 26 minutes as Martin did well to keep the ball in on the left touchline, he released Lewis who beat his marker for pace before crossing to Fabbrini who, with his back to goal, found time to turn and bury the ball past Yates.  Two minutes later, the Hornets were ahead as Fabbrini hit a lovely shot from the edge of the area.  Royston had a couple of chances to break back as Fehmi tried a shot from distance that hit the side netting, then Bradshaw put a shot well over the bar.

Fabbrini congratulated after scoring

Fabbrini congratulated after scoring

Lewis connected with a Byers free-kick, but his header was weak and straight at Yates.  Watford had a great chance to increase the lead but the Royston defence was resolute in blocking shots from Lewis and Martin before Murray’s shot was put out for a corner.  The visitors continued to threaten as Lewis broke forward with Fabbrini in close attendance but the attempted through ball was cut out.  So the visitors reached half time a goal to the good.  It had been an enjoyable first half with some lovely football from the Watford team, all of whom were working hard on a very heavy pitch.

At half time, there was an eerie atmosphere in the ground as the entire crowd (apart from Don and I) disappeared into the clubhouse and there was no music was playing over the tannoy.  Heaven knows why we decided to stay outside as it was bitterly cold.  But I feared that, if I ventured inside, I wouldn’t want to return for the second half.

Royston's turn to defend

Royston’s turn to defend

Royston had the first chance of the second period as substitute, Ingrey, shot over the bar.  Normal service resumed as Murray broke forward and fed Fabbrini whose shot was blocked.  Murray then launched a cross which flew over the head of the leaping Lewis.  For the home side a free kick from Fehmi was headed clear by Hoban.  A cross by Lewis to the far post was hooked clear.  On the hour, Folivi replaced Murray for the Hornets and Lockett came on for Watters for the Crows.  The indefatigable Fabbrini went on another run before passing to Martin whose shot was blocked.  Folivi played a short corner to Smith who returned the ball and Folivi hit a lovely shot that required a terrific save from Yates to keep it out.  A follow-up shot from Rowan was deflected over the bar.  It wasn’t all Watford as a cross from Dobson was hit goalwards by Ingrey but blocked.  Then Lewis fed Folivi whose shot was blocked.  With 15 minutes remaining, Stevens, who had replaced Kyprianou for the Hornets five minutes earlier, was booked for a foul on Dobson.  Bradshaw hit a hopeful shot straight into Gilmartin’s arms.  There was danger for the Hornets as Dobson broke into the box and unleashed a great strike that Gilmartin pushed over the bar.

Nothing will pass Fabbrini and Murray

Nothing will pass Fabbrini and Murray

At the other end, Fabbrini and Martin combined to feed Folivi whose shot was blocked.  With 5 minutes remaining, Martin pulled Dobson down just outside the box.  Fabbrini did an effective job as the only man in the wall, “intimidating” Dobson into curling the free kick wide of the far post.  Endacott fell under a challenge in the Watford box, his claims for a penalty were given short shrift by the referee who may have been lynched if he took the game to extra time.  Watford continued to press with a Martin run into the box where he played a square ball to Fabbrini who shot wide of the target.  Diego wasn’t to get his hat trick, but he did have a hand in the third goal, exchanging passes with Folivi who shot past Yates to seal the win in the last minute of the game.

Too often in these games, we have fielded an Under 18 team which has been beaten by the physical strength of the men fielded by the opposition.  The team fielded last night was a nice mix of youth and experience that continued to play lovely passing football in difficult conditions.  Royston certainly had their chances, but the Hornets were worthy winners and Fabbrini was a revelation on a cold night in Royston.

As Don and I came off the A1M a car came up beside us at the lights on the roundabout and sped off on green.  I noted that it had an Italian number plate.  When I caught up at the next set of lights, I glanced over to see Fabbrini in the driving seat of the least flash footballer’s car that I have seen since Jay DeMerit had that old mini.  Not for the first time that evening, my opinion of Diego went up a notch.

Goalless at the Stones

The teams enter the field

The teams enter the field

We’ve had a good relationship with Wealdstone in recent years, although I still feel guilty about the way they were treated during the ground share.  But that was in the Petchey years and he also screwed us, so the behaviour was not out of character.  This pre-season game had been billed as a Watford development squad, but Dave Hughes’ squad was to be augmented with a couple of first team players.

Don, Trond and I were in the disabled area, so well placed to see who arrived to occupy the VIP stand (if there is such a thing at Wealdstone) as they had to walk past us.  I was impressed to see Gino Pozzo arrive with Gianluca Nani.  Marco Cesarini was the next to walk past us, so I said hello and he shook my hand and introduced me to his wife and children.  I had failed to notice that he was followed by Beppe and the first team coaches, all of whom shook our hands.  We had become an unofficial welcoming party.

Pre-match handshakes

Pre-match handshakes

The starting line-up was Bond, Young, Doherty, O’Nien, Johnson (c), Brown, Tapoko (trialist), Smith, Jakubiak, Rosenthal and Fabbrini.  Former Watford youngsters Jonathan North and Elliott Godfrey started for Wealdstone.  There was a nice gesture from the excellent tannoy announcer who welcomed Smith and O’Nien back, both having been there on loan in recent seasons.

There was an early scare for the visitors as McGleish came in on the blind side of Johnson but, fortunately for us, his shot was wild and flew over the bar.  The same player threatened again soon after, cutting the ball back to Pigden, but Young was on hand to snuff out the danger.  Fabbrini had already been knocked over a couple of times, with no sympathy from the ref, when, in the 11th minute, he went down with a squeal of pain, holding his head.  He disappeared into the dressing rooms with the physio and we were playing with 10 men for 8 minutes.  Wright had a great chance to put the home side ahead, but his air shot gave the Watford defence time to clear the ball.

Smith and O'Nien

Smith and O’Nien

Watford’s first chance came as Smith got on the end of a low cross from Rosenthal, but his shot was wide of the far post.  Rosenthal was the next with a chance for Watford but his low shot from distance was easy for North to gather.  A forward run by Fabbrini was stopped rather brutally on the edge of the box, but the referee waved play on.  Rosenthal tried another shot from distance, but this time it flew over the bar.  On the half-hour, Mills took a free-kick for the Stones that was heading for the top corner until Bond leapt and turned it over the bar.  Then Collins broke into the box but Johnson was on hand to block the shot.  At the other end, O’Nien took a free-kick that flew just wide of the target.  With 5 minutes of the half remaining, Bond was blocked as he attempted to reach a free-kick, which fell to McGleish who shot over the bar.  Wealdstone continued to look for the opening goal as an excellent long pass reached Wright who cut it back to Okimo whose shot was repelled by a diving header from O’Nien, McGleish’s follow-up needed a smart save from Bond to keep the game goalless.  The last chance of the half fell to Rosenthal who, again, saw a shot from distance fly over the bar.  As the teams left the field Johnson and Bond were arguing with the referee.  The lino had missed some calls and the ref had been a little harsh on Fabbrini (yes, really), but I hadn’t seen anything that justified the apparent level of their complaint.  Certainly, Wealdstone had been the better of the teams in the first half.

Bond ready for anything

Bond ready for anything

The first chance of the second half went Watford’s way, but Fabbrini’s shot from distance was soft and didn’t trouble North in the Wealdstone goal.  We held our breath as Collins was tripped in the box, but the referee had been reluctant to blow up for fouls, which was to our advantage on this occasion as he waved play on.  On the hour, a Wealdstone corner was met with a header that flew over the bar.  Then Fabbrini broke through and was tripped, the ball broke to Jakubiak in the box but he couldn’t quite control it so his first shot rebounded off North, his second attempt beat the keeper but was cleared before it reached the goal.  Soon after, a free-kick from Doherty just cleared the crossbar.  That was his last action of the game as he was replaced by Mahlondo Martin.  Jakubiak found space in the box but could only shoot wide of the near post.

Waiting for the ball to drop

Waiting for the ball to drop

Fabbrini was fouled yet again with nothing given by the officials.  I thought it was my yellow-tinted spectacles that provoked my sympathy until the Wealdstone fan behind us commented on the unfairness of the decisions.  At this stage Fabbrini was replaced by Folivi and, as he immediately walked to the dressing room, was followed by Sannino walking through the stand the two of them having a lively conversation.  On 72 minutes, Carl Stewart replaced Smith.  Jakubiak went on a great run and unleashed a shot, but North was equal to it.  The final Watford substitution saw Dennon Lewis replacing Tapoko, the trialist, who had a decent game in the midfield.  Martin had a good shot saved by Carter, who had replaced North in the Wealdstone goal.

Young defending

Young defending

With 10 minutes remaining, Lewis latched onto a ball over the top and passed back to Jakubiak who had a great chance to win the game, but shot just wide.  The final action of the game was a free-kick from O’Nien which was just over the bar, so the game ended goalless.  It had been a lively contest and Watford definitely had the best of the second half with Jakubiak a constant menace to the Wealdstone defence.

Despite the lack of goals, it had been a lovely evening to watch football and I was impressed to see Gino Pozzo in attendance, as well as Nani, Sannino and all the coaches, supporting the Development Squad.

Bowing out of the Youth Cup

The teams emerge

The teams emerge

Another day, another match.  After our trip to Yeovil, we were back at the Vic to see the U18s take on Liverpool in the 5th round of the FA Youth Cup.  I was pleased to see that the club had again produced a programme which included player profiles and photos from the previous round.  The players also emerged from the tunnel to Z-cars, so they were exposed to the ‘big match’ experience, which I think is important.

The starting line-up for Watford was Dan Wilks, Jazzi Barnum-Bobb, Josh Doherty, George Byers, Jorell Johnson (c), Alfie Young, Kurtis Cumberbatch, Ryan Hope, Alex Jakubiak, Tom Rosenthal and Mahlondo Martin.  The Liverpool team was Ryan Fulton, Connor Randall (c), Joe Maguire, Jordan Williams, Lloyd Jones, Jordan Rossiter, Harry Wilson, Cameron Brannagan, Ryan Kent, David Trickett-Smith and Sheyi Ojo.  Prior to the game, the steward in the disabled area told us that the Liverpool team had cost £35M with one player costing £6M on his own.  I hear something similar every time we face Premier League opposition at this level and it serves to emphasize the gulf that exists between clubs even in the Academies.

Jorell Johnson clears

Jorell Johnson clears

Liverpool started the game brightly and created an early chance as Brannagan broke on the right wing and crossed for Trickett-Smith whose header was straight at Wilks.  Watford also provided an early test for the opposition keeper as, from a corner, there was a header down to Rosenthal whose shot was blocked but Jakubiak latched on to the ball skipped around the defender and unleashed a shot that Fulton had to drop smartly to push around the post.  A ball over the top for Liverpool found Kent offside in the area.  Then Rossiter shot wide from the edge of the box.  As I was sitting in the disabled area in the Lower Rous and only the Upper Rous was open, I had no idea how many fans were in attendance, but it was great to hear the 1881, complete with drum, singing their

Liverpool line up a free kick

Liverpool line up a free kick

hearts out just above me.  Liverpool won a free kick on the edge of the Watford box as Kent was tripped.  There was a lot of jostling in the wall as Trickett-Smith seemed to be doing jumping jacks in front of the Watford defenders.  In the event, the free kick was hit low and Wilks got down to save it.  In the next Liverpool attack, Johnson was on hand to head a cross from Maguire clear.  Wilson then tried a shot from the right, but Wilks was equal to it.  Watford had struggled to get out of their own half, so it was great to see Rosenthal go on a run down the left skipping around a couple of tackles but his cross was wasted as there was no Watford player in the Liverpool box.  One of the joys of being at games like this is that you can hear some of the exchanges on the pitch.  At this point we were treated to the ref telling one of the young reds, “I suggest you stand up and shut up.”  If only this were still possible with their senior colleagues, the behaviour on the pitch would be so much better.  Liverpool were soon on the attack again through Ojo who cut the ball back but it bounced off Brannagan and out of play.  For the home side a lovely cross found Cumberbatch marginally off-side.  Just before the half hour, Liverpool had the best chance of the game so far as Maguire broke into the box and cut the ball back to Brannagan whose

Alfie Young and George Byers

Alfie Young and George Byers

shot required a good save from Wilks to keep the game scoreless.  A lovely Watford move saw Byers and Rosenthal combine to play Jakubiak in, but the pass was just too far in front of the forward and Fulton got to it first.  Then Kent beat Barnum-Bobb to get in a shot that was headed clear by Johnson.  Trickett-Smith met the corner with a header that hit the side-netting to the relief of the Watford faithful.  At the other end, Rosenthal played a great ball to release Jakubiak but again Fulton came out and gathered it just on the edge of his area.  Liverpool continued to attack the Watford goal.  First Kent had a shot that curled wide.  Then Wilks spilled a cross from Ojo but Doherty was on hand to clear.  Maguire broke again and played in Kent who turned and fed Trickett-Smith whose shot dropped straight into the Wilks’ arms.  Liverpool finally made the breakthrough on 40 minutes as Randall reached the bye-line and cut the ball back to Trickett-Smith who swept it past Wilks.  The Watford defence had done well in frustrating the visitors, but the goal had been coming.  Doherty was the first player to be cautioned.  It seemed a bit harsh from my vantage point as it looked as though Randall had run into him.  The last action of the half was another low free-kick by Liverpool, but Wilks gathered it easily.

Defending a corner

Defending a corner

Before the start of the second half, Jakubiak was out early for an extra warm-up.  Liverpool’s first attack of the second period saw Maguire cutting the ball back in the box, but Doherty was on hand to kick it into row Z.  Six minutes into the half, Watford made their first substitution with Kurtis Cumberbatch making way for Dennon Lewis.  The substitute was immediately involved, playing a through ball to Jakubiak who was sadly offside.  For the visitors, Wilson tried a shot from distance that Wilks gathered at the second attempt.  Then Byers released Jakubiak who beat a defender to get in a shot that was deflected for a corner.  Watford’s second substitution was Carl Stewart for Ryan Hope.  On

The defence standing strong

The defence standing strong

the hour, Wilks did well to deny Trickett-Smith, sticking a leg out to block his shot, the forward hit a follow-up that was cleared.  Trickett-Smith then turned provider, finding Wilson on the edge of the box who juggled the ball before shooting well over.  A ball from Young released Jakubiak who cut the ball back to Rosenthal but his shot was wide of the near post.  On 72 minutes, Bobson Bawling replaced Tom Rosenthal.  Liverpool’s first substitution saw Ryan Kent replaced by Jerome Sinclair.  With 10 minutes to go, Liverpool scored a second as Trickett-Smith found Randall on the right, he cut the ball back to Wilson who shot past Wilks in the Watford goal.  The game became a bit scrappy as the players tired.  Young stopped Ojo escaping by pulling him over and was lucky to escape a caution.  Barnum-Bobb did earn a booking for taking Maguire down.  Liverpool’s final substitution was Trickett-Smith for Pedro Chirivella.   In the last five minutes of normal time, Rossiter made a late, high tackle on George Byers which earned him a deserved booking. 

Preparing to defend a free-kick

Preparing to defend a free-kick

After treatment, Byers tried to limp off while supported on both sides but couldn’t put any weight on his right foot so another coach came on to help carry him off.  It looked a nasty injury so I was happy to hear today that he was just badly bruised.  Having already used all of our substitutes, we finished the game with 10 men.  In the last minute of normal time Brannagan outpaced the Watford defence, although he looked offside to me, and, with Johnson closing in, he shot over the bar.  The lino indicated a corner, but I didn’t think the defender got a touch.  There were 4 minutes of time added on.  Wilson released Sinclair who was denied by Wilks diving at his feet, but the ball broke and Sinclair poked it goalwards but, thankfully, it rolled wide.  Wilks was the hero again as he stuck out a leg to block another shot from Sinclair.  The final action of the game saw Rossiter poke the ball wide from distance.

Dan Wilks

Dan Wilks

Sadly, this ended the U18s involvement in the youth cup.  Liverpool had dominated the game and were worthy winners, but the Watford lads had played well and worked their socks off and should be very proud of their efforts.  Watford captain, Jorell Johnson, looked gutted at the end, but the lads received enthusiastic applause and encouragement from the 1923 in attendance who will have gone home impressed with the next generation of Watford players.

Crawley Overcome in the Youth Cup

Crawley flags in the Winfield stand

Crawley flags in the Winfield stand

Friday night saw the rearranged FA Youth Cup match at Crawley Town.  I must admit to having been thrilled at our draw in this competition, in contrast to the grown-ups version.  My hope for the early rounds of the cup is always that it will allow me to visit a ’new’ ground.  The Broadfield stadium certainly met that criterion.  Also, despite having to take a detour to avoid flooding and then tackle the M25 on a Friday evening (shudder), the journey was relatively painless and there was plenty of parking at the stadium.  As if that wasn’t enough, waving something that looked vaguely like a Watford season ticket at the turnstile operator gained you free entry to the match.   I thought it was a great gesture to allow away fans to get in free too, so I bought a programme.  While the Watford related content was limited, it did list our squad by position and year in the academy and had a brief summary of our last meeting with Crawley at U-18 level.  For the Crawley team, there was a “Meet the Squad” page and reports and pictures from their games in the earlier rounds.  I was rather impressed with that.  These youngsters work so hard at their trade and the majority won’t make it in the professional game, so I love it when the clubs allow their youngsters to play at the first team stadium and put out a proper programme.

Pre-match handshakes

Pre-match handshakes

As I arrived at the stadium, I spotted a few familiar faces, so was able to watch the game with other Watford fans.  The pitch was in a terrible condition.  They’d added sand on one side of the ground, and the rain started chucking it down soon before kick-off so the game was played in horrible conditions.

The starting Watford line-up was Dan Wilks, Jazzi Barnum-Bobb, Josh Doherty, George Byers, Harry Kyprianou, Alfie Young, Chris Dillon, Ryan Hope (C), Alex Jakubiak, Tom Rosenthal and Mahlondo Martin.  The game started well for the visitors and, after a nice spell of play in the 10th minute, Hope played a through ball to Dillon who squared for Rosenthal in the box but his shot was blocked.  Soon after, Richefond for Crawley beat Byers then played the ball out to the wing, but the cross was blocked.  A follow-up cross from Robinson was straight at Wilks in the Watford goal.  Crawley nearly got themselves in trouble in the 13th minute as the goalkeeper, Colquorn, came for a cross only for Cadman to head it

Martin takes a throw-in

Martin takes a throw-in

over him in the direction of the goal.  Fortunately for the home side, Lall was on hand to head it clear.  Crawley then tried to break, but a through ball from Isaacs to Fowodu was slowed down by the pitch and the momentum was gone.  It was Watford’s turn to break, but Rosenthal’s shot was wide of the near post.  The first real chance came on 19 minutes when Martin made a great run and cross, there was some great interplay between Rosenthal and Barnum-Bobb before the ball came to Jakubiak whose shot was saved.  There was danger for the visitors soon after as Doherty delayed a clearance just outside the box and gave the ball away to Anderson, the two players tussled for possession and the Crawley man fell over and was awarded a free kick 25 yards from goal.  They took an age to line it up and when Lall finally took it, the ball deflected off the wall and was

Celebrating Jakubiak's first goal

Celebrating Jakubiak’s first goal

easily gathered by Wilks. On 24 minutes, Watford took the lead as Lall gave the ball away to Jakubiak who ran past him into the area, he was closed down but was first to the loose ball and knocked it past Colquorn.  It was a horrible goal to give away, but Jakubiak’s persistence deserved the reward.  At the other end, Robinson outleapt Young to head a cross goalwards but it was an easy catch for Wilks.  Then Barnum-Bobb gave the ball away, it was played across the field to Woon whose shot flew wide of the far post.  Just before the half hour, Hope broke and fed Jakubiak but he took too long thinking about a shot and the chance was gone.  He redeemed himself on 35 minutes with a lovely curling volley from the edge of the area which Colquorn did really well to keep out.   At the other

Jakubiak congratulated on a lovely goal

Jakubiak congratulated on a lovely goal

end Anderson looped in a cross that Wilks jumped to catch.  Then Jakubiak played a ball to Hope on the wing, but his shot was straight at Colquorn.  The normally reliable Wilks played a poor clearance straight to Robinson who beat the challenge of Barnum-Bobb, but then shot straight at the grateful keeper.  With 5 minutes to half-time, Lall tried a hopeful shot from distance, but it flew well over the target.  Just before the break, Watford were two goals to the good as Hope passed to Barnum-Bobb on the right who put in a lovely cross to the back post where Jakubiak rose well to head powerfully past Colquorn.  It was a goal of real quality.  The half time whistle was greeted with satisfied smiles from the Watford contingent.  Crawley had battled well, but we were playing some lovely football and well worth our lead.

Crawley line up a free kick

Crawley line up a free kick

Crawley made a substitution at the start of the second half replacing Lall with Hector.  I had high hopes for more goals and Watford were on the attack immediately as Jakubiak shot across the face of the goal and just wide of the far post.  Next Dillon passed to Martin but his shot was wide of the far post.  The same two players combined again soon after but this time Martin’s cross was straight at Colquorn.  On 52 minutes, Melville replaced Crawley’s captain, Isaacs.  Soon after, Watford made their first substitution of the evening as Dennon Lewis replaced Chris Dillon.  Rosenthal stretched for a ball and went down immediately, it looked like a hamstring until one of his team mates started helping him

Waiting for the ball to drop

Waiting for the ball to drop

stretch and it became clear that he just had cramp so he was soon on the move again.  Just before the hour, Jakubiak, Hope and Barnum-Bobb combined well, as they had all evening, but Jazzi’s shot was straight at Colquorn.  Anderson then won a battle with Rosenthal but his shot flew over the stand at the end of the ground.  On 62 minutes, Kurtis Cumberbatch replaced Rosenthal.  He was involved in the next Watford goal attempt feeding Lewis whose shot came back off the inside of Colquorn’s right-hand post.  Crawley made another substitution bringing Gill on for Fowodu.  Anderson broke into the box but was foiled by a great saving tackle.  On 78 minutes, Anderson twice headed goalwards from corners into a crowd of defenders.  The first attempt was put out, the second was hacked

Congratulations after the final whistle

Congratulations after the final whistle

clear.  Soon after, Woon tried a shot from the right that flew wide of the far post.  This had been a decent spell for Crawley, as the Watford players appeared to be tiring on the heavy pitch.  Anderson threatened again, this time he broke into the area but Wilks came bravely to save at his feet.  Jakubiak had a fantastic chance to seal his hat trick as he latched on to a through ball from Lewis but his shot rebounded from the same post that Lewis had hit earlier.  A great shame as he thoroughly deserved another goal.  With time running out Anderson put a cross into the area that was headed clear by Kyprianou.  In time added on Wilks and Martin got in each other’s way jumping to clear a Crawley cross but managed to clear and the game finished with a 2-0 win for the visitors.  The second half had not been as entertaining as the first, but it was a well-deserved victory for the Watford boys who will meet the holders, Norwich, at home in the fourth round.

Watching the U21s in Llanelli

Welcome to Llanelli

Welcome to Llanelli

A couple of weeks ago, when I booked my train tickets for the trip to Llanelli, travelling to support our U21s in the cup had seemed like a fun idea.  Yesterday, as I explained to colleagues why I was taking today off, I questioned my sanity.  My arrival in Llanelli didn’t do anything to lift my mood.  Having passed the grandeur of the Liberty Stadium on the train, the area outside Llanelli station looked positively second rate and the walk up and down hills through housing estates made me wonder where I was going to end up.  However, when I finally reached Stebonheath Park, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it’s a lovely little ground.  I was also happy to see the Watford team coach as confirmation that I was in the right place. As I entered the ground, I saw three other fans

The stand at Stebonheath Park

The stand at Stebonheath Park

walking around the perimeter.  When I caught up with them, I was delighted to see that that one was Robin, a friend from WML, who introduced me to Steve, another WML stalwart, and his friend, Jane, who is a Swansea fan.  As Bernard Mensah is a friend of Robin’s family, I asked if the youngster would be missing out due to his appearance on Saturday and was pleased to be told that he would be playing.  Another pleasant discovery was that the seats in the stand were yellow and red, surely a good omen.

When the team was announced, it was a young group without the permitted overage player.  I believe the oldest in the squad was 19.  The line-up, 1 to 11, was Wilks, Barnum-Bobb, Doherty, Byers, O’Nien (c), Kyprianou, Cumberbatch, Hope, Ikpeazu, Mensah and Martin.  Tom Rosenthal was on the bench, so we were joined in the crowd by Rocket Ronnie.

Pre-match greetings

Pre-match greetings

We had an early scare as Cumberbatch gave the ball away, Bray interchanged passes with Lucas but fortunately his shot went into the side netting.  Soon after, Swansea threatened again as Meade went on a run down the wing where he was stopped by a foul from Doherty.  He took a low free kick, which was diverted over the bar by Ikpeazu.  Then Swansea launched another good break, Sheehan put in a decent cross, but Jones headed it back across goal when it looked easier to score.  On 15 minutes, Watford’s youngsters had their first attack of note as Ikpeazu robbed Shephard, but his cross was cut out.  Swansea were immediately on the offensive as a cross from Donnelly was knocked wide by Bray.  Then Sheehan played a through ball to Bray who found Donnelly in front of goal.

Defending a set piece

Defending a set piece

He looked certain to score, but just tapped the ball towards goal and Wilks gathered safely.  Donnelly turned provider as he fed Jones, but his shot was gathered easily by Wilks.  On 24 minutes, Martin went on a run down the wing and found himself boxed in close to the bye-line with two defenders on him.  Somehow he managed to flick the ball into the box, it reached Ikpeazu, who had his back to goal and was unable to get into a shooting position.  Then Martin lost out to Bray in midfield, he advanced and whipped in a dangerous looking cross which was cut out by O’Nien.  Just before the half hour, a through ball was played to Donnelly running into the box, but Wilks dived at his feet to

Waiting for a goal kick

Waiting for a goal kick

gather the ball before he could shoot.  Soon after, a chance fell to Loveridge who shot just over the bar.  With 8 minutes to half time, Byers gave the ball away to Donnelly, Kyprianou pushed him over to stop the attack and was booked for his trouble.  Jones put the resulting free kick wide of the target.  We had our best chance of the half as the clock reached 45 minutes.  Ikpeazu was through on goal, but was being pulled back, which put him off and his shot went harmlessly into the side netting. So, we reached half-time goalless.  Swansea had had most of the play and the majority of the chances, but our defence had done well, particularly Wilks.  During the interval, we met Alan Cozzi in the tea bar, who confidently predicted a draw with us nicking it on penalties.

Hope on the attack

Hope on the attack

At the start of the second half, Swansea were immediately on the attack and a dangerous cross was headed off the line.  On 50 minutes, O’Nien just failed to cut out a ball to Donnelly whose shot was brilliantly kept out by Wilks.  Then Sheehan broke into the box, but Barnum-Bobb did a great job in dispossessing him and averting the danger.  Next Mensah was on the attack with a run down the left wing, but his shot was across the area and did not test Davies in the Swansea goal.  Watford were having a decent spell of possession and the next attack was a lovely passing move that culminated in a shot from Ikpeazu straight at the keeper.  Loveridge for Swansea then had a shot from distance that went over the bar.  The next incident that went in my notebook was a Swansea player being penalized for a foul on Ikpeazu.  This may not seem worthy of note but, for those that

O'Nien sharing a joke with Mensah

O’Nien sharing a joke with Mensah

haven’t seen Ikpeazu play, he’s a big gangly lad and referees seem to pull him up unfairly, particularly in 50-50 situations.  I think this was the first time I’d seen him win a free-kick.  Just before the hour, a Swansea corner was headed up by Doherty and Wilks had to punch it over.  Soon after, we won a free kick wide on the right, Doherty shot for goal and Davies had to stretch to keep it out.  On 65 minutes, Swansea should have been ahead.  First a shot was cleared off the line by Ikpeazu.  In the follow-up, Donnelly was fouled and the ref pointed to the spot.  Loveridge stepped up to take the penalty.  He hit it to Wilks’s right, but the young keeper dived and kept it out.  The resultant corner was poor and Watford launched a promising counter attack, but a pass through to Martin was short and the chance was gone.  On 69 minutes, Swansea had another corner that was met with a point blank header from Donnelly, but Wilks stood tall and blocked the chance.  Soon after, Ikpeazu was replaced by Rosenthal.  Young Tom’s first contribution of note was to break forward and be taken down by Lucas, who was booked.  On 78 minutes, a quick Swansea attack finished with Donnelly hitting an audacious chip goalwards catching Wilks off his

Rosenthal and Mensah

Rosenthal and Mensah

line.  Fortunately for us, the ball bounced wide.  Then Donnelly broke again but Wilks pulled off a great save to deny him.  On 81 minutes, Bray was replaced by Gorre.  Swansea’s last chance of normal time fell to Loveridge whose cross was easily gathered by Wilks.  Watford pressed for a winner in the last couple of minutes.  First a shot from distance by Hope was kept out by Davies.  Then, the final action of the game when Mensah went on a dangerous run, but his cross was cut out.

Huddle before extra time

Huddle before extra time

Extra time in the Bristol Rovers game had been a worry as the lads all looked out on their feet.  Today, they looked a lot fresher and eager for the extra period, while I congratulated myself on remembering to book a late train home.  In the second minute of extra time, Gorre tried a shot from distance that went well wide.  Then Mensah went on a run and dinked past two players before Shephard took him down and earned a yellow card.  On 102 minutes, Watford hearts were in their mouths as a dangerous ball into our box was almost turned into his own net by O’Nien.  Soon after, the dangerous Donnelly sent a glancing header wide.  Mensah had taken a knock in the first half of extra time and looked likely to be replaced at the break.  He started the second period, but was soon replaced by Bawling, who was named on the teamsheet as Alfred.  Surely Bobson Bawling isn’t actually an Alfred!  O’Nien was then booked for kicking Jones as he ran past.  The only attempt on goal in the second period of extra time was a cross from Sheehan that Donnelly nodded wide.  There was a final substitution as Joseph Jones replaced Meade, but the tie was to finish goalless and go to penalties.

Watford took the first penalty as our captain, Luke O’Nien, stepped up but skyed his kick (0-0).  It was heartbreaking for the lad, who had performed brilliantly during the game.

Blurred celebrations

Blurred celebrations

Gorre took Swansea’s first spot kick, putting it to Wilks’s right as the young keeper went the wrong way (1-0).  Doherty was up next and his shot went in off the crossbar with one of the Swansea crew by pitchside jokingly asking for goalline technology to prove that it had crossed the line (1-1).  Alfei stepped up next and put his penalty to the keeper’s left, just past Wilks’s stretching arm (2-1).  Hope hit a very cool penalty straight down the middle (2-2).  Donnelly hit his penalty to the right of the keeper with Wilks going the wrong way (3-2).  Martin hit a lovely penalty high to Davies’s left (3-3).  Then, with Robin shouting at Dan to go to his right, Loveridge hit a penalty to the keeper’s left and Wilks dropped to save it (3-3).  Byers hit a lovely penalty to the keeper’s left with Davies going the wrong way and we were ahead with only one spot kick remaining (3-4).  Lucas stepped up to take the penalty and the Watford contingent was delighted to see it end up behind the goal.  On the balance of play, that was cruel for the Swansea boys, but the defensive heroics, particularly by the wonderful Dan Wilks, meant the Watford youngsters were through to the final 16.

At the end of the game, we applauded the lads off, although they were soon back out for a warm down.  Bernard Mensah came over to talk to Robin, so I was introduced and the lad gave me a hug and thanked me for coming to support them.  As we walked around the pitch to leave the ground, we were chatting about what an enjoyable game it had been when we saw the Watford players all running in our direction.  I was confused as the tunnel was the other way, then I realized that they were coming over to us and each of them, along with David Hughes and the other coaches, shook our hands and thanked us for being there.  Luke O’Nien apologized for missing the penalty, but said he would step up and take another if necessary, a good leader as well as a great little player.  The lads were all beaming and so was I.

Early this morning, I wondered why I was taking a day off work to travel to Wales for this game.  After an enjoyable afternoon, with good company, watching a competitive game in a lovely little ground and seeing the reaction of the boys at the end, I have to say it was a day well spent.